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The Men Who Would be King in 2014

The chemistry and momentum is clearly with a charismatic Modi but will he have the numbers to become India’s next prime minister?

Published: Dec 27, 2013 06:56:42 AM IST
Updated: Dec 26, 2013 03:28:56 PM IST
The Men Who Would be King in 2014
Image: Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Modi addresses his party supporters during a rally in New Delhi. The key to power lies in two states (Bihar and UP) and in BJP's ability to strike post-poll alliances

For almost three decades, Sharad Pawar has been India’s prime minister-in-waiting. A few years ago, when journalists asked him if he had finally given up on his prime ministerial ambitions, the Maharashtra leader candidly admitted that with a party of less than 10 MPs, his chances for the top job were virtually nil. But then, he cheekily added, “If Deve Gowda can do it, I guess anyone can aspire to be prime minister!”

Kaun Banega Pradhan Mantri promises to be India’s longest running political serial in 2014. Where once the question asked to political pundits was ‘who will form the next government’, now the question raised is ‘who will be the next prime minister’. That, perhaps, is the ‘Narendra Modi effect’ on Indian politics. A party-based political system is now being pushed towards becoming a presidential system where the Indian voter is being asked to choose which individual is best suited to reside at 7 Race Course Road.

The Men Who Would be King in 2014
Modi has been the most open and direct in expressing his desire to become India’s next prime minister. His “Mission 272” is being run with a war room-like aggression designed to propel the Gujarat chief minister from Gandhinagar to Delhi. It is clear that Modi, through a mix of artful image building and personal endeavour, has been able to strike a chord as a tough, decisive leader committed to good governance. He has been helped in no small measure by Dr Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi. Their perceived weakness makes Modi stand out as a 21st century Iron Man who will deliver the country from sloth and inefficiency. For a younger, aspirational India, Modi’s brand of sharp-edged politics is contrasted with Rahul’s NGO-like approach to public life. Forget the 2002 riots and Modi’s questionable record on Hindu-Muslim relations: Younger India wants to shake off the burdens of the past and appears to be hankering for a ‘man on a white horse’ who will offer instant solutions for the future.   
The chemistry then is clearly with a charismatic Modi. But Indian elections are as much about arithmetic as they are about chemistry. The first big question then to answer in 2014 is this: Will Modi have the numbers to be in pole position to become India’s next prime minister? Truth is, Mission 272 is really Mission 220. There are about ten states spread between Maharashtra in the west through to Bihar in the north that will decide Modi’s political future. The nearly 300 seats on offer in these states are the fertile ground where Modi must reap a rich harvest if he is to have a realistic chance of fulfilling his ambition.

In that context, the 2013 winter elections do offer some pointers. While the stunning debut of Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP party has dominated the headlines, the real story of these elections was in Rajasthan. By winning an astounding 162 seats out of 200 with a vote share swing of 11 percent, the BJP has benefited from a tidal wave in its favour. This cannot be explained as normal ‘anti-incumbency’, but does suggest that the Modi factor gave the BJP an incremental vote that propelled the party to a four-fifths thumping win. Was Rajasthan an exception, or is it a harbinger of what can be best described as a north-west monsoon that may sweep across India in 2014, driving Team Modi towards the promised land?

Illustration: Sameer Pawar

The Men Who Would be King in 2014
Image: Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi at Indira Gandhi’s memorial at Shakti Sthal in New Delhi. The challenge before the Congress is: How to protect its heir-apparent from the potentially damaging consequences of a bad defeat

Remember a potential north-west monsoon in favour of the BJP may be countered by a south-east drought that continues to stare the saffron combine across a vast geographical area accounting for over 250 seats. The key to power then lies in two states—Bihar and Uttar Pradesh—and in the ability of the BJP to strike post-poll alliances. Of the 120 seats on offer in the two big states of the Hindi heartland, the BJP must win at least 70 seats. Of potential allies, the BJP may need at least two, if not three, of Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati and Jagan Reddy to align with them.

As the BJP does its number crunching with an eye on government formation, the Congress faces a different challenge: How to ensure that the party doesn’t dip below the three-figure mark and how to protect its heir-apparent from the potentially damaging consequences of a bad defeat. A litany of scams and an economic slowdown have meant that the perception war has already been lost. Now, it just wants to protect its self-esteem as a national party. Rahul Gandhi’s own politics appear to be looking beyond 2014, even a possible period in the opposition, if only to rid the party of an old guard which has resisted any attempt at overturning the status quo.
Two-thousand-fourteen then is not an election that the Congress is fighting to win, but to prevent the other side from crossing the line. It’s a bit like the Indian cricket teams of the ’50s and ’60s which looked for an honourable draw rather than pushing for a victory. For the Congress, 2014 is now about ‘anyone but Modi’: It is almost a clarion call for a revival of  a potential 1996-like third front experiment, or even a BJP-led government that has as its prime minister someone other than the BJP’s ‘Chosen One’.

Which is also why the Congress leadership has been looking at Kejriwal’s success with hope and amazement: If a political startup can set the agenda in the national capital, why is a 128-year-old party of the freedom movement unable to shake itself from its self-inflicted stupor? Kejriwal may well be a Delhi phenomenon for now, but his style of mass politics has offered a potential alternative to the two-party system. Kejriwal-led urban politics, aided by an increasingly assertive middle class and a vocal media, offers some relief to those who are desperate for change.

And if change is indeed in the air, then here’s the sign of it: In the CNN IBN-CSDS pre poll survey of Delhi, nearly half of those who said they would vote for Kejriwal in a state election, said they would vote for Modi in a general election. This urge for change may well be disruptive but it is, at the moment, the driving force of Indian politics. Like him or hate him, the ‘Big Mo’ (momentum) is with the man from Vadnagar. But he, like all other potential prime ministers, must beware of the unknown Deve Gowda-like figures waiting in the wings!

(This story appears in the 10 January, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Girishkumar K. Panchal

    selfless leader is sucess in politics

    on Mar 1, 2014
  • Vikas Mohan

    At this point in time it is suffice to say that the majority of voters who voted for AAP in Delhi, would be inclined to go for Modi/BJP in the general elections. The sentimental mindset of the voters for BJP and AAP is essentially the same, especially in the urban areas. Kejriwal and his group, if successful, would definitely form a stable cog of the NDA alliance scheme - atleast his voterbase would ensure this!

    on Jan 21, 2014
  • Deepak

    Thanks for this good post.

    on Jan 14, 2014
  • Sonali Sharma

    There is no better Prime Minister like Narendra Modi. Only literate people believe that Namo is only best guide to take India on the path of progress and self respect. The vision of Modi is quite high, and the biggest example of this is Statue of Unity, a statue which is dream of Modi.

    on Jan 6, 2014
  • Mesonali

    There is no better Prime Minister like Narendra Modi. Only literate people believe that Namo is only best guide to take India on the path of progress and self respect. The vision of Modi’s is quite high, and the biggest example of this is Statue of Unity, a statue which is dream of Modi.

    on Jan 6, 2014
  • Vaishwords

    This is a much better and more balanced article. We do need to have a serious, in-depth and two-sided debate about Modi as a future PM of India; not the love/hate and black and white that one reads in most media reports: Narendra Modi: India’s Saviour or the Devil in Saffron? http://www.vaishwords.com/2013/12/narendra-modi-indias-saviour-or-devil.html

    on Jan 5, 2014
  • Aman Tyagi

    A good balanced write up from Rajdeep. I always thought your critics went too far. I do believe you\'re, personally, not a fan of Modi/BJP/RSS/right wing in general, but your commentary is usually balanced. Only once in a while your personal opinion cloud your words.

    on Jan 3, 2014
  • Amit Kumar Saha

    The one

    on Dec 31, 2013
  • Bapty.s

    Well. Balanced article from RAJDEEP, but from Modiji vs Rahul, it can\'t move to many P.MS. It\'s not the question of JUST P.m post, but more so the MAN WHOIS FIT TO OCCUPY THAT CHAIR. Who else canit be butModiji, if INDIA NEEDS TO BE PULLED OUT OF THE RUT. THANKYOU.

    on Dec 31, 2013
  • B G Shirsat

    At last Rajdeep Sardesai voted that there has been no alternative to NaMO in 2014 General Elections. However, he has put may caveat while doing so. We must give Rajdeep another 2-3 months to change his caveated opinion.

    on Dec 30, 2013
  • Nirav Vaidya

    There is a strong need for change and that is surely an overriding sense as the country braces for 2014 elections...but who will be the PM ?? is like what happens in the game of cricket....nothing can be told until the last ball is bold! My guess is the formula of a king maker and the king will continue! If the king wants to be the king maker...there are certainly many davedaars for becoming the KING...now whether he or she is from BJP,CONG,THIRD FRONT or jaisa AAP samjhe! It\'s surely going to be quite a race!!

    on Dec 29, 2013
  • Thinker

    NaMo as PM, with a couple of regional satraps as Dy PM, would deliver the numbers and be strong - Amma as one Dy PM would help in the south

    on Dec 28, 2013
  • G.niharika

    narendra modi with high mettle

    on Dec 28, 2013
  • Sanjeev

    Well, Sir. Some sort of balance in your article otherwise most of the journalists generally disregard the man who has come up after life long battle and struggle and still doing so.

    on Dec 28, 2013
  • Smit Khedekar

    Sir you are right that the wave is towards NaMo as PM. But we can\'t forget that south India votes counts. And this time we can have Amma at the helm.

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Sandeep

    \"But he(Modi), like all other potential prime ministers, must beware of the unknown Deve Gowda-like figures waiting in the wings!\" How it is possible,when BJP declared Modi as PM candidate.? Regional parties,other than Communists ally with the ruling party in Centre as they wish to reap benefits for their home State. AAP can\'t be a threat to Modi in anyway. AAP can garner few seats galloping the vote share of Congress. In fact it is easy to predict the wave this time in favor of Modi. For Congress it is a question of identity.As SP leader Azam Khan said,\"Rahul is looking for left over votes in garbage bin\".

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Somnath Urhe

    NaMo is the right person for PM candidate,he have good experience than Rahul to run governance...And he is responsible,Rahul not taking any responsibility always ruining from responsibility.

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Telef

    Six months is a fairly long period in Indian elections.Right now, it looks like the Congress cannot stall the likely winning horse, Mr. Modi. The alliances that they forge will decide the winning horse. To me it looks like a photo finish or a hung Parliament.

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • C B Pathak

    Sir,I agree with you, no doubt Modi will be King

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Kiranc

    There are many problem ahead to be PM for Mr.Modi even though he is the most popular leader of Nation, as 01) L.K.Advani\'s life long desire to be PM may interrupt one and another way 02) Increasing volume of AAP and AAP\'s alliance with Congress, 03) Corrupted leaders of BJP in south 04) Third front groups cant digest popularity of Modi and so can support Congress. Apparently feasible King of 2014 ,has practical problems to be PM of India, except miracle can made small groups to join BJP Even SIVSENA is not supporting him it always oppose MOdi\'s statement

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Vadivudai Selvi

    Modi is a make up hero ,who came to power thru,back door and now trying to justify his deeds , where as AAP\'S arvind,prashanth bhusan... so on are the real hero\'s of our country,imagine arvind in delhi adn prashanth in Delhi as PM ,how india will kill all these illminded politicians career.nothing is possible in india,but national parties dream never come true in near future so easily. People wanted a clean imaged person from all areas,should be educated,pple support,religious,acceptable by all sections,and capable of taking of this govt affice,only arvind,prashant can bring revolution in india not illitrate and communal modi.

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Nandanan Raghu

    Most people wish Modi to be the next PM. Question is will he be able to secure the required numbers.

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Sanjay

    We are just fed up from Prime Minister like MMS who always loves to be hide behind the curtains. Even Pakistani army slaughtered our brave soldiers at border but the MMS was mum. A Prime Minister must and has to express people\'s voice. I voted for AAP in Delhi for local issues and time will tell how Kezriwal manages but for Center we would go for non other than Modi. He fully deserve to be there. India will have a strong administrator never before.

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Chandan Parhi

    For long media with foreign support have unnecessarily been too supportive of Gandhi family.The article denotes their perception of which way the wind is blowing, hence quick response

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Deepak

    Lets work out this. 100% wave in guj.raj.mp.cg and del is 101. 60% in up and bihar is 72. Rest of india 20. Total is 193. How will 81 short covered. SS 20. SAd 11. Balance 50? Ysr or Tdp (not together) AGp who else will never be 50. So AIADMK? Make jaylalitha PM. Nda headed by jaya in power. Or else sivraj or advani less AIADMK is in power. Now checkout rally intention in Mumbai and reply of uday. Modi for PM is possible only with BJP nearing 240 and not 220. Bjp knows this do started talking 272 notes for votes.

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Vijay Chawla

    Shouldering the overwhelming burden of alleged scams, and led by oratory-lacking trio of Manmohan, Sonia and Rahul, UPA had long ago lost the 2014 script to the Gujarat '€˜Strongman'€™. In the recent Assembly polls, Modi'€™s refrains of '€˜Shehzada'€™, vote-bank politics, Nehru an €˜ineffective€™ PM, and €œeven 65 years after independence-€ had definitely touched a chord with the masses, and aggravated UPA anti-incumbency, thus enhancing BJP vote share. You have rightly said the 2014 polls are turning into presidential polls. As of today, no one seems to be capable of challenging Modi for the PM post. And, Modi'€™s chance also lies in your assessment that '€œYounger India wants to shake off the burdens of the past and appears to be hankering for a '€˜man on a white horse'.€ For a change, younger India is more than willing to reject UPA, headed by the Congress, which Modi has successfully projected as "€˜a burden of the past."™

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Mobile Monk

    While Mr. Rajdeep has first to acknowledge Modi effect, the politicians and their parties have denied this. but effect can be seen from laughable they make. Such comments are made when person is really scared.

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Agnihotriajit

    I think that rise of \"NDA\" (in whatever form) or demise of Congress in 2014 is a well settled debate. Let us move on to next and maybe bigger issue. Will NDA 2 will be anyway better than UPA 2 in term of decisiveness especially economic policy. The answer is emphatic NO. Remember in India, opposition is always united (for the sake of opposition) and ruling alliance always divided. My back of the envelop calculation gives NDA (once again in whatever form) a strong 310 but this includes Mamta Banerjee\'s 30 (and even communist\'s 10 seats). I have assumed NCP will also go with NDA. Now, Mamta as an ally is .............. So net result will be a lame-duck govt again. Sorry stock markets but it is clear the writing on the wall. Forget economic reforms. BJP and Congress oppose, when in opposition, what they propose when in power. Particularly during UPA 2, BJP has set \'new standards\' for opposition. UPA will no doubt will emulate or better those standards as an opposition. TMC as an ally or opposition (doesn\'t matter - it is born to oppose), will oppose everything. So let us embrace the fact that no reforms and less and sub-5% growth. And thanks to VHP - RSS at helm, let us be ready to go back in time in other matters also. We have seen BJP\'s stance on 377 - that\'s a telling sign on days to come.

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Reddy S B

    Rajdeep Sir, I totally agree with you, as per my analysis, I feel the title should have been \"The MAN Who Would be King in 2014\" No doubt..

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Prem Singh

    without any doubt not Manmohan Singh , Not Rahul Gandhi And Not Arvind... than who ? i think sir you know better than me

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Nitin Sharma

    AAP could be a factor in these elections as well. If they decide to field substantial number of candidates, they may get enough seats to be the number three - after BJP and Congress. This could upset Modi\'s calculations.

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Anand Vardarajan

    Very well said Rajdeep! Not losing is the new winning..

    on Dec 27, 2013
  • Chintan

    Modi was suppose to win all anti Congress votes but after Delhi result whole scenario has changed...It has become major obstacle on Modi\'s way to become PM.

    on Dec 27, 2013